District, CIB propose schoolyard watersheds

The Indian River School District partners annually with the Center for the Inland Bays to take middle-school students to James Farm Ecological Preserve to introduce them to and educate them about the watershed. District elementary school students might soon receive that same type of hands-on education without ever leaving their schools.

School district officials plan to discuss and possibly vote on plans at next month’s board of education meeting to build watersheds at Phillip C. Showell Elementary School in Selbyville and Long Neck Elementary School in Millsboro, officials said this week.

“I am an advocate of that kind of thing,” Indian River Superintendent Susan Bunting said Tuesday. “I love to see nature preserved. I hope, as children grow up, they will develop (that same love). I think that’s something we can encourage.”

Sally Boswell, the education and outreach coordinator with the CIB, has presented a proposal to build watersheds at the two schools to district officials in recent months.

Boswell secured a $5,000 grant through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and separate donations and CIB funds for the projects. Those monies would help build the watersheds, work with district officials to develop curricula for different-aged students, and possibly refurbish an already-existing outdoor center at Lord Baltimore Elementary School in Ocean View.

Indian River’s School Board voted unanimously on Tuesday to allow the center and Lord Baltimore to begin work. Although overgrowth and under-attention has tainted Lord Baltimore’s “Environmental Learning Center” while staff and students were away for a year during renovations, according to the school’s principal, is not yet clear what type of refurbishing or educational work will be done there.

“After we moved out last year, it was taken care of, but not like it should have been,” said Principal Janet Hickman. “It just needs some tender loving care.”

Boswell hopes to work with community representatives and district officials including Steve Cardano, the district’s science coalition specialist, to develop activities at the outdoor education center for each grade level. The Ocean View location could then be used as a demonstration and possible template for the Showell and Long Neck projects if approved, she said.

“We’ve got to get teachers to buy into this idea,” said Cardano, a former director of a Maryland environmental center. Schoolyard wetland habitats are already being used with success by numerous schools in Maryland, according to Cardano and Boswell.

Visit www.wetland.org, the Web site for Environmental Concern — a Maryland organization that assisted Boswell in attaining the grant — for pictures and more information.

“It’s a great concept,” Cardano said. “It really lends itself to real world applications that students can be involved in.”

“Our overall mission (at the CIB) is to promote the wise use and protection and restoration of the inland bays and watershed. That doesn’t happen unless you have an educated and aware populous,” Boswell said.

If the two sites are approved for the schoolyard habitats, officials would study the property, design a plan and hopefully build the watershed by late spring or early summer of 2007, Boswell said.

The watersheds would theoretically contain native species of plants and animals, she added, and would be an excellent educational tool on-site. (One of the issues with the Lord Baltimore site is that it contains non-native species, Boswell noted).

And students would be involved with the watershed’s growth. They would help plant the life in the watershed, study it and tend to it under Boswell’s vision. Officials at both study schools support the idea but need more detailed information about the project before the December board meeting, they said.

“I think that would be very exciting. I’d love to hear more about it,” said Charlynne Hopkins, the principal at Long Neck Elementary. “It’s certainly something we’d like to look into and investigate.”

“Kids have a natural curiosity for the outside,” Phillip C. Showell Principal Ivan Neal said. “I think it would be a great thing. I’d like to know more details so I can involve my staff in the planning. Anything like this has to be done well in order for it to be taken advantage of.”